Get The Noise Out Of Your Hiring Process

It’s up to you to make sure you start your hiring with the best signals and to eliminate poor selection circuitry—if you don’t want to deal with a lot of noise during the few job interviews you have time to conduct.

Get The Noise Out Of Your Hiring Process

The dumbest thing in recruiting is listening to noise, which results in bad hires and too much of your time wasted interviewing the wrong job candidates.

But it seems the entire recruiting and employment industry is engineered to produce, sell, and listen to noise. It’s why you can’t find and hire the marketing talent you need. The right talent just can’t make it past the noise your recruiting system introduces into your selection process.

Hiring Is An Engineering Problem

When I started headhunting in Silicon Valley, I learned the business by recruiting digital design engineers. I knew nothing about electronics or engineering, so I admitted it to the people I was recruiting, and to my surprise, they loved teaching me all about their work.

During a lunchtime lesson about microprocessors way back in 1980, an engineer named John Draut mentioned that—like me—he was shopping for a high-end cassette tape recorder. What John taught me about recording engineering turned into the biggest insight I ever had about recruiting the best people for my clients.

“Get rid of the noise before you buy a recorder. Buy a new turntable first,” John advised.

Get Close To Your Job Applicants

In those days, the highest-quality retail music recordings were on vinyl discs, which were played on turntables. The only way to copy and share those recordings was to transfer them to cassette tapes. The quality of a tape recording, explained John, started with the quality of the “source” that it was made from. So no matter how good a tape machine I might buy, the quality of the signal that I was recording—the music on the vinyl record—would always be limited by the crappy signal my cheap turntable produced.

“You have to get as close to the original signal as you can,” he explained. “A good turntable processes the sound accurately. But when you have cheap circuits in between the vinyl and the tape, you’re going to get a lot of noise.”

The same is true when you’re hiring. Job applicants are your signals. And your company’s recruiting system is the circuitry that processes them. I’m betting you wind up with a lot of noise in your job interviews.

Eliminate Cheap Recruiting Circuitry

Think about how companies try to hire the very best people. They put a lot of recruiting circuits between the hiring manager and the best candidates. The result is that, by the time a short list of candidates makes it to you, the best candidates have probably been lost, while a lot of wrong candidates have been added.

For example, your HR circuits process applicants through software algorithms that allow all sorts of noise to leak into the candidate pool. By peppering a resume with the right keywords, an applicant games the system and makes it to the short list. To an engineer, that applicant is noise—or a “false positive.” If the hiring manager—the best circuit there is—were selecting candidates, there would be less noise. The candidates would be better.

After applicants make it through the algorithm circuit, an HR person screens them; it’s another cheap circuit. I say cheap because—face it—most HR people doing this screening don’t know enough about marketing to judge properly. Such poor circuits result in perfectly good candidates—maybe the best ones—being rejected because HR can’t judge them as accurately as you can. Engineers call that a “false negative.” No matter what you call it, it’s a missed opportunity. (Employment tests can cause the same problem. See “Say No To Employment Testing Prior To Job Interviews.”)

John hated wasting his time going to interviews for the wrong jobs. He didn’t like talking to most recruiters because they didn’t understand the jobs they were trying to fill or the details of his technical qualifications. While I wasn’t a perfect signal processor, I was better than most headhunters who transmitted nothing but buzzwords between engineers and employers. I was pretty good at getting the signals right.

Improve The Signals In Your Interviews

In “Wall Street Is Betting On Software To Find Top Talent,” we can see that the signal-to-noise ratio in recruiting is further impacted by the introduction of artificial intelligence—“technology [that] can help predict which employees will succeed at a given job … to sort out applicants.” More circuits between the hiring manager and the candidate pool.

A hiring manager is like a high-end tape recorder. If the signal—a short list of job applicants—has been pre-processed by loads of questionable recruiting circuitry, the result will be less-than-optimal hires.

Clearly, you don’t have time to personally process every applicant who wants to work for you. Or do you?

Suppose your HR department stopped inviting thousands of people to apply for a job in your department, and you instead targeted a much smaller number of high-signal candidates from high-signal sources. For example, attendees at a relevant marketing conference or personal referrals from marketers you respect. Would you have time to be the first signal processor then?

It’s up to you to make sure you start your hiring with the best signals and to eliminate poor selection circuitry—if you don’t want to deal with a lot of noise during the few job interviews you have time to conduct. It’s how I learned to make really good mix-tapes from my vinyl records. (To become a better recruiter yourself, see “Nine Secrets For Hiring Great Marketers: A Chat With Investor Gilman Louie.”)